Tonight is Fight Night and it is the last one

Tonight, as I have for more than a decade, I will head over to the Washington Hilton to attend Fight for Children’s Fight Night Gala. This one will be the 30th anniversary of this event. It will also be the last. I cannot believe it is over.

Fight Night has raised over 65 million dollars to support low-income youth in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. It was the creation of Fight for Children founder Joseph E. Robert, Jr. who raised nearly a billion dollars for healthcare and education for children living in poverty. He passed away at the age of 59 at the end of 2011 from a brain tumor that was diagnosed at the hospital where I work. I was with him when he received the diagnosis. That was not a good day.

I so wish Mr. Robert were here. He would be proud that his organization recently announced that it has donated five million dollar to Children’s National Hospital to create the Fight for Children Sports Medicine Center.

The press release announcing the news states that it will be “the region’s first sports medicine center dedicated exclusively to the needs of youth athletes. The new center, expected to open in the later part of 2020, will not only provide world class clinical care and rehabilitation services for sports-related injuries, but will also offer programs on injury prevention and performance evaluation, including a state-of-the-art motion analysis and performance lab. In addition, the Center’s mission will include conducting research on youth sports-related medical care, as well as providing a home for education and other community outreach activities. Fight for Children’s gift will ensure that the benefits from the Center will be available and accessible to all youth in the region, particularly those from underserved communities. The Center will be located at the lobby level of the former Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.”

Children’s Hospital was a favorite cause of Joe Robert, ever since his son had surgery there as an adolescent. He contributed millions of dollars in his own name to the organization, and in 2009 coordinated a 150 million dollar grant to the facility from the United Arab Emirates.

There is more to celebrate this evening. Word from Capitol Hill is that a bill is moving through Congress that would permanently authorize the SOAR Act, the legislation containing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, that provides private school vouchers to low-income children. The law is supported by Senators Ron Johnson, Dianne Feinstein, Tim Scott, and Mike Braum. The move has also received strong backing from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. The OSP was a favorite of Mr. Robert, who fought hard for its passage in 2004 and who fiercely challenged attempts by President Obama and his U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to shut it down. His own Washington Scholarship Fund was for years the administrator of the program until it became impossible to carry out this function under the Obama administration.

There are currently approximately 1,700 students taking advantage of the OSP. Additional funding up to 75 million dollars contained in the current legislation would raise this number to 2,000. The SOAR Act contains equal funding for private school vouchers, D.C. charter schools, and DCPS. This three sector approach was championed by Joe Robert.

Permanently authorizing the SOAR Act will be a crowning achievement of Mr. Robert’s legacy. The bill is expected to pass.

We will raise a glass to toast Mr. Robert’s amazing work later this evening.

Scott Pearson stepping down as executive director DC Public Charter School Board

Word came at noon yesterday that Scott Pearson, executive director for eight and a half years of the DC Public Charter School Board, has resigned his position effective May 29, 2020. A national search for a replacement will now be conducted by the PCSB.

I have so much to say regarding this news that at first I had difficulty knowing where to start. But then my initial meeting with Mr. Pearson came back to me as if it had happened yesterday. Shortly after he had assumed his current job in 2012, I noticed that Mr. Pearson was commenting in public regarding various matters facing the D.C. charter movement. It had not been the custom for the charter board’s executive director to make pronouncements in the media. Under the previous administration of board chair Tom Nida and executive director Josephine Baker, it was always Mr. Nida who spoke for his organization. I mentioned this observation on my blog and questioned the new role that Mr. Pearson was playing.

Shortly after the publication of my piece, I joined Mr. Pearson on a tour of Washington Latin PCS upon whose board I served. When I first encountered the PCSB executive director the first words out of his mouth were something along the lines of “So I’m not supposed to comment on issues before the board?” I was taken aback by his directness and explained that I was only raising the topic for further discussion.

Going forward, ups and downs have characterized my relationship with Mr. Pearson. I have been a consistent supporter of his efforts to increase the quality of the charter portfolio. Yet I have been a critic when it comes to the high level of regulatory requirements imposed on our schools and the failure to greatly expand the number of new charters approved by his body. I also do not believe that he did enough to incentivize charter school replication, and could have done more to help solve the facility problem.

We have also strongly disagreed about a couple of school closures he supported that eventually ended up going my way. These include Options PCS, which is now Kingsman Academy PCS, and Latin American Youth Center Career Academy. But my greatest arguments with Mr. Pearson came regarding a couple of published articles that he authored.

In 2015, Mr. Pearson, together with then PCSB chair John “Skip” McCoy, had a column printed in the Washington Post entitled “Getting the Balance Right.” It asserted that the current share of children enrolled in charter schools, which was then at 44 percent, was just about right. The opinion piece delivered a punch to the stomachs of school choice advocates hungry for the day when they envisioned an education landscape in our city where a majority of students attended these alternative schools. We were confused as to which side he was on.

This doubt was greatly amplified by Mr. Pearson’s printed online commentary suggesting that a unionized charter school would add positively to the sector’s diversity of offerings. His encouragement created a fertile environment for the attempted teachers’ union infiltration of Paul PCS, the successful unionization of Cesar Chavez PCS’s Bruce Middle campus, which is now closed, and now the vote last May by staff members to ratify a union at Mundo Verde PCS. Anyone committed to public school reform knows that teachers’ unions are completely incompatible to this effort.

Despite our differences, in 2016 Mr. Pearson agreed to sit down to an interview with me. I found him to be warm, intelligent, transparent, and completely engrossed in the challenges facing our sector. We had a philosophical discussion in which he enlightened me to viewpoints I had not considered in the past. I am still extremely grateful for his time.

So what should we say about Mr. Pearson’s tenure at the charter board? He is an individual dedicated to quality who through his work helped thousands of children receive an education in a high performing school. He raised the bar for classroom instruction and closed charters not making the mark. Mr. Pearson professionalized and standardized the systems, processes, and policies of the PCSB that resulted in it being recognized as the nation’s leading charter school authorizer. He recruited and retained a talented staff. Mr. Pearson is also a leader who developed the Performance Management Framework to be the gold standard of benchmarking our schools. He is too, in an unanticipated turn of events, someone who may have remained in his position had Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, not stepped down as deputy director four months ago. They worked extremely well together and he depended on her advice and counsel.

E.L. Haynes PCS’s 15th Anniversary Celebration

Last Thursday evening I attended a perfectly orchestrated celebration of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School’s first 15 years. I just love it when events are fashioned in such a high quality manner.

The gala was held at the ornate National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Upon reaching the entrance there were banners on either side announcing the name of the school with its mantra of “BE KIND, WORK HARD, GET SMART” written across the bottom. The signs announced to the guests that they were about to enter a value-based environment. I immediately ran into Jennie Niles, the founder and former executive director of the school. I asked her what she was looking forward to about tonight. If you have met Ms. Niles you know that she believes that occasions such as these are never about herself. She commented:

“I’m just excited and really feel that its overwhelmingly wonderful to see all the people gathered here today that comprise the E.L. Haynes community. We didn’t even have a school when our first class of parents signed their children up with us. Now those students are in college.”

In college they are. Over 450 graduated seniors. The professionally produced booklet accompanying the festivities lists the post-secondary colleges and universities to which these young individuals have been accepted. Included on the list are American University, Brandeis University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, University of Chicago, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, and Wellesley College, just to name a few.

Several dignitaries from D.C.’s education world were in attendance. I always enjoy speaking with Michela English, the former president and CEO of Fight for Children and current board chair at DC Prep PCS. It turns out that E.L. Haynes was Fight for Children’s first Quality Schools Initiative Award winner back in 2008. There was an extensive and passionate conversation I then had with Allison Fansler, president of KIPP DC PCS, and Jack McCarthy, AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation president and CEO, about the seemingly intractable facility issues charters face in our city, It is no secret that KIPP DC is trying hard to win the request for proposal for the shuttered Ferebee-Hope for use as its second high school.

Between the passed Hors D’oeuvres of chicken pupusas, maple cinnamon glazed pork belly lollipops, and mini bison burgers, I then was able to get a few minutes with E.L. Haynes CEO Hilary Darilek. I inquired from Ms. Darilek about her current focus at the school. “I’m really thrilled about the next phase for our charter,” she remarked above the rising level of attendees’ voices as the room filled to the brim. “The fact that we are taking a moment to celebrate our first 15 years with our strong commitment to the second 15 is really important to me. Today’s recognition is all about the students. We are now going through a strategic planning process with our pupils, parents, and teachers. This is also a special time for me because this week is my four-year anniversary at E.L. Haynes.”

I then wanted to know the biggest lesson that Ms. Darilek has taken away from her time at the school. She answered without hesitation. “We need to put student voices at the center of everything we do. If we really are truly focused on improving our program and our support structure for our kids, then we need to listen to what our students are saying.”

It was now time for the formal program. There were warm and concise welcoming remarks from Ms. Darilek and Ms. Niles. However, the highlight for the audience had to be the “Bring Yourself to Haynes” video produced by the school’s students. It was exceptionally well done. In one part you see the scholars filming the piece change their role to acting in the montage. A song was included named after the title of the piece. Here are a few of the words:

Let’s take a trip to two thousand and four,
Jennie had a vision for a school that did more,
She named it after Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes!
Our first building was on top of CVS – oh my!
Times have changed, now you can come by,
Our campuses [yeah two campuses] Georgia and Kansas Ave!
Started out with Pre-K and now we go all,
The way to 12th grade and every fall,
We tour colleges all around the country,
Check the banners on our walls
We believe in each other,
We support one another,
Ooh, we’re shooting for the stars
Don’t test me unless it’s SAT!
I’m out for text evidence to represent me,
Grade point high, uptown, DC,
And I’m measuring my angles, cuz I want a degree – Hey!

Next on the agenda was a high energy performance by the E.L Haynes 15th Anniversary Choir and Dance Ensemble. These students were simply amazing in the way they were able to engage the audience through their movement and voices.

After a few closing remarks by Abby Smith, the school’s board chair, it was time for desserts such as chocolate dipped french macarons and mini caramel cashew tartlets, brought to the guests by waiters and waitresses.

A tremendous time was had by all. The gathering raised approximately $200,000, including over $50,000 during the festivities. This level of support made it the most successful event in E.L. Hayne’s history.

 

Empowerk12 recognizes Bold Performance D.C. public schools

Empowerk12, a D.C. nonprofit that supports data analytics in education, recently released its list of 28 Bold Performance schools that outperform their predicted standardized test scores on the PARCC assessment. The methodology behind the designation of a Bold Performance school is fascinating. From the organization’s website:

“We analyzed the 2019 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) data and found that at-risk concentration was the most predictive indicator of school-wide PARCC proficiency. Almost 45% of DC students tested in Spring 2019 were considered at-risk. The more at-risk students a school serves, the fewer the number who met expectations on PARCC, our analysis found. Other factors with a statistically significant impact on a school’s proficiency rate after controlling for percent at-risk served include percent special education, English language learners, race, and grade-level configuration. The 2019 model for Bold Performance includes all factors with a statistically significant impact, with at-risk contributing the most weight.

We used an ensemble of machine learning models to project what percentage of students were expected to be proficient at every school given their demographics, and then identified schools with actual proficiency rates significantly higher than expected. The 2019 Bold Performance award-winning schools have actual proficiency rates at least 10 percentage points higher than schools with similar demographics.”

Here’s some of the group’s observation’s about the winning schools:

“KIPP Promise leads the pack with a proficiency rate 33 points higher than similar schools—and combined proficiency higher than a few Ward 3 schools with considerably more affluent populations. At four of the Bold Performance schools, at-risk students have a higher math and ELA combined proficiency rate than non at-risk students District-wide: DC Prep Edgewood MS, KIPP Heights, KIPP Lead and KIPP Promise.

Together, the 28 schools educate 10,759 students, of which 18% receive special education services and 57% are considered at-risk, ranging from 32% to 86%. An at-risk student is a child whose family qualifies for SNAP or TANF benefits, is placed in foster care, or is experiencing homelessness.

Seventeen of the Bold Performance award-winning and honorable-mention schools are located east of the Anacostia River in Ward 7 and Ward 8, three in Ward 6, four in Ward 5, two in Ward 4, and one each in Wards 2 and 1. Six 2019 winners have been Bold Performers each of the last four years, since the awards began: DC Prep Benning ES, DC Prep Edgewood MS, Ketcham ES, KIPP Lead ES, KIPP Heights ES, and KIPP Promise ES.”

Here’s the complete list of schools:

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I could not help to notice that 67.9 percent of the schools on this list are charters. Congratulations to all of the winners. Truly fantastic work.

 

Depressing results on the 2019 National Report Card regarding America’s schools

The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress results were released last week and the findings were not good. The exam, which tests approximately 300,000 fourth and eighth graders in reading and math, were last reported in 2017. According to the Washington Post’s Perry Stein:

“Nationally, scores for reading in fourth and eighth grades dropped from 2017 to 2019. Declines were recorded among students with the highest scores and among those with the lowest scores. In math, there was a small improvement among fourth-graders but a small drop in grade eight, driven by declines among lower-performing students.”

The Center for Education reform was even more direct in its assessment of scores on the test that is referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

“Only 35 percent of 4th grade and 34 percent of 8th grade students performed at or above the proficient level in NAEP reading, and 41 percent of 4th grade and 34 percent of 8th grade students performed at or above the proficient level in NAEP math, and that’s not reflecting the declining performance of historically low performers, precisely the students we should worry the most about. In what world are these acceptable results?”

The only positive in this examination revolves around performance of pupils in Washington, D.C. Again, according to Ms. Stein:

“This year, the District and Mississippi were the only jurisdictions to improve on three of the four metrics evaluated. And when compared with the 50 states, the District made the largest gains in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math over the three decades since the test was first administered. . . The District was the only jurisdiction that experienced a significant increase in eighth-grade reading. The score increased to 250 points, still well below the national state average on the exam. “

In fact, the District’s performance lags compared to the national average for proficiency and above in fourth and eighth grade reading and math. Even more unsettling is that the gains made by D.C.’s students come from the traditional school sector. Ms. Stein indicated that the proficiency percentages for charter school students were flat compared to two years ago.

What is going on here? We saw lackluster 2019 PARCC standardized test scores come out from the charters followed by the NAEP. Do we know the root cause of these indicators?

Well please allow me to repeat what I wrote when the PARCC scores were released:

“There are many reasons that charters are failing to perform when it comes to the PARCC. The facility issue is still proving to be a significant drain on the attention span of school leaders. The financial challenges, especially around teacher salaries, are not helped by the substantial inequity in funding compared to DCPS. The pressure placed on these schools by the PCSB in the way of accountability through the Performance Management Framework, and other regulatory burdens, makes it almost impossible for them to be the centers of innovative learning envisioned when they were created.”

These are issues that can no longer be ignored. They are significantly impacting student achievement. It’s time to start over. I need a group of energized and angry education reformers to lead the charge in Washington, D.C. to get our movement on the right track. The alternative is that our charter school experiment may be coming to an end.

Emotions raw at October D.C. charter board meeting

It was one of the most fascinating meetings I have seen in my years of watching the proceedings of the DC Public Charter School Board. During the open comment period person after person testified against DC Prep PCS expanding to a new location on Frankford Street, S.E. The entire discussion was confusing because the charter was on the agenda seeking approval to begin operating its new Anacostia Middle School beginning with the 2020-to-2021 school year and beyond at the site of the Birney Building, an incubator location operated by Building Pathways that now is home to Lee Montessori East End PCS and the old Excel Academy PCS that converted in 2018 to be part of DCPS. Yet here they were, a long line of witnesses, many with signs that read “Ø#NoDCPreponFrankford!Ø.”

Sandwiched toward the end of this part of the session, a mom who has two children attending Rocketship Rise Academy PCS, which was hosting the PCSB on this night, announced that a convicted child molester had tried to remove her kids from aftercare on a day in which school was not in session. The attempt, she said, was not successful, but she added that she has heard six different stories about what took place and has been trying to meet with a representative from the charter for three weeks about this issue without success. This prompted a Rocketship staff member to come forward to explain that the man in question had been detained by the police when he tried to leave with her children and that he had just attended a hearing on this matter today. The Rocketship employee also admitted that he had not done a good job reviewing this highly worrisome event with the parent.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein, in an article appearing last Thursday, provided some details around the arrest of this individual. Antonio Burnside, age 30, “was forced to register as a sex offender after pleading guilty in December to attempted kidnapping and was given an 18-month suspended sentence, according to court records.” A police officer stationed at Rocketship let him into the school after he claimed he was with another person entering the building. Mr. Burnside then began playing basketball with a nine year old child and then tried to escort him and his six year old brother outside. A school official stopped him and Mr. Burnside was then arrested on unrelated charges. He is now being held without bail for attempted kidnapping. Rocketship, the PCSB, and the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education are all reviewing security procedures at its schools. A letter went out from Rocketship’s administration to its parents two weeks after the incident occurred.

Next up was AppleTree Early Learning PCS regarding its proposal to co-locate with Richard Wright PCS for Journalism and Media Arts at its new location at 475 School Street, S.W. beginning in 2020. This is the AppleTree campus that was thrown out of its temporary location at Jefferson Middle School Academy when DCPS went ahead with a plan to renovate this facility. No accommodation was made for AppleTree and so the charter had no choice but to close this location. It was a slap in the face to the over 100 disadvantaged children and their families who now had to find somewhere else to send their three and four year olds.

Also as part of its charter amendment, AppleTree is attempting to open a new school at 1000 4th Street S.W. during the 2023-to-2024 school year. What is so exciting about this expansion is that this permanent home would be leased to the school by the developer PN Hoffman. One solution to the crippling charter school facility problem that has been floated in the past is to team with developers to provide classroom space. It appears that AppleTree is about to make this dream a reality.

The board will vote on these plans at the November meeting.

Finally, it was DC Prep’s turn at the table. Here is where things really became interesting. Chief Executive Officer Laura Maestas related that the school would prefer to locate its Anacostia Middle School campus at the Birney Building. However, for over a year DC Prep has been trying to get an answer as to what DCPS plans to do with Excel, whose lease is coming to an end. Without a solution in hand the charter moved quickly to purchase the Frankford Street church property that came on the market and was rapidly receiving interest by others in securing the parcel. Ms. Maestas admitted that her team has not engaged with the community about moving to this address. In fact, the school has kept the deal, which is scheduled to close in December, to itself.

Ms. Maestas added that if a suitable alternative could be identified to Frankford Street, then DC Prep would be open to selling this site.

The discussion clearly ignited the passion of board member Naomi Shelton. She pointed out that all charter operators are aware of the difficulties around finding space. But what she expressed she will not tolerate is the battle between adults over where schools should be located. Ms. Shelton decried the acrimony leveled against charters that are doing their best to close the academic achievement gap and yet she also chided institutions that fail to engage neighbors from the beginning in a respectful dialog about their plans. She pointed out that for years public officials in D.C. have been bystanders to a political problem over empty DCPS buildings that should be utilized for schools and under-enrolled classrooms that are ripe for co-location. Ms. Shelton concluded her remarks by urging all of the parties involved in this controversy to bring their case together as a group to the very politicians, such as D.C.’s Deputy Mayor of Education, that are standing in the way of a resolution.

There was one bit of business on this evening that was remarkable for the lack of contention that it generated. As predicted, Rocketship PCS was approved to open its third campus in the Fort Totten area of the city.

Student enrollment in D.C. charter schools shrink

As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported yesterday, student enrollment in D.C.’s charter schools decreased for the first time since the movement started 23 years ago. Simultaneously, DCPS has grown by four percent compared to last term. 51,060 pupils now attend traditional schools compared to 43,556 in charters. The charter sector went down by 404 scholars compared to October 2018. They now educate 46 percent of all individuals attending public schools. These are unaudited statistics.

What should we say about the decline? The only conclusion that can be reached is to be proud of our local charter movement. As Mayor Muriel Boswer explained to the Post, “One of the big ideas behind the charter movement is that schools that are successful stay open, and schools that are not close, so we shouldn’t be so surprised by this trend.”

It’s been so depressing to watch the Democratic candidates for President talk about education. They uniformly attack charters like they are some kind of monster. At least two of those running, Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker, used to be strong proponents of school choice. But now they are after the endorsements of the teachers’ unions so they are not allowed to say anything positive about these institutions that are opening up in the toughest part of cities in order to teach those kids that have been tossed to the curb. The entire situation breaks my heart.

One thing I have never been good at is politics. I believe that people are basically good and that if I treat them with dignity and respect everything will turn out the right way. However, reality is unfortunately much different from my naive view. People do things and say things that are not based upon the best interest of others. They are looking out to serve themselves.

Which is why what we have accomplished in the nation’s capital is so spectacular. Our city is sticking with the standardized PARCC assessment, testing kids on their comprehension of Common Core standards, which have been viciously attacked as evil around the country. The new DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee has stated he will review the IMPACT teacher evaluation tool that ties ratings to student academic performance but he does not envision much change. I’ve lost track of how many charter schools the DC Public Charter School Board closed this year, but it is doing the extremely tough job of shuttering low performing facilities. Some localities have scrapped the PARCC and Common Core because the relatively low scores made educators look bad. Others have turned away from holding instructors responsible for the results posted by their students. In addition, there are places where charter schools operate in which the authorizer is not as strong as the PCSB. Therefore, poor schools have been allowed to continue operating.

I cannot explain the reasons behind the fortunate alignment of forces that has allowed the nation’s capital to stay above the fray and focus on the singular goal of closing the academic achievement gap. Perhaps it is a natural reaction to the dysfunction of the federal government. But the cause does not really matter. What is crucially important is that we continue on the mission to prepare our youth to compete and thrive in a global economy. Through this bold effort, we will have saved several thousand lives.

Should D.C. School Reform Act give more power to charter board?

I’ve written much about the hearing before the D.C. Council earlier this month regarding a bill to increase transparency of the city’s charter schools. However, there was a fascinating discussion that occurred towards the end of the session between Phil Mendelson, the Council chairman, and Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, that has yet to be reported.

The conversation revolved around the power that the charter board has to force the schools it oversees to comply with its rules. Mr. Pearson was asked by Mr. Mendelson what actions his organization can take if charters refuse to abide by its requests for information. For example, charters are required to provide to the PCSB minutes of its board meetings. What happens, the Council chair wanted to know, if a school decides simply not to comply?

Mr. Pearson indicated that there are number of steps his organization would take. It would start with communication from his group to the school. If this doesn’t work then a letter might go from Mr. Pearson to the school’s board chair. Alternatively, the school’s board may be required to meet with the PCSB. The charter board could also mandate that the school’s board report on the issue at one of its monthly meetings. Finally, Mr. Pearson added, if a school fails to submit material the board would begin charter revocation.

Responding to Mr. Pearson’s remarks, Mr. Mendelson likened charter revocation to taking a sledge hammer to a school to get it to do the right thing. The D.C. Council chairman alluded to the fact that the punishment seemed extreme considering the school’s indiscretion. Mr. Mendelson pondered as to whether it would be better to encode the board’s stipulations into law. Mr. Pearson answered that the PCSB does not distinguish between its regulations and statutes when it comes to information derived from schools. However, the charter board executive director did concede that charters may be more inclined to satisfy obligations if they were part of legislation. “People generally don’t want to break the law,” Mr. Pearson opined.

The back and forth between the two men is interesting for a number of reasons. I’ve written many times about the excessive burdens that the charter board places on its schools. If these commands had to part of D.C. code in order to be in effect, would this step inherently limit the data that the board seeks from its schools? Would this change impose a higher standard on guidelines established by the board?

This topic also calls into question whether the charter board should have other disciplinary tools at its disposal. Should it be permitted to withhold funds if a school is not responding appropriately to the board? Perhaps a grade on compliance should be incorporated into the Performance Management Framework?

As we grow and mature as a local charter school movement these matters will almost certainly increase in importance. However, for today, we will worry about open meetings and FOIA requests.

Bowser administration reacts to End The List campaign with misleading facts

D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn recently released a report entitled “Citywide Landscape of Former DCPS Facilities Remaining in Educational Use or Government Owned” which is a clear attempt to blunt the attack on Mayor Bowser’s administration regarding the withholding of more than 1 million square feet of surplus DCPS space that by law must be turned over to use by charter schools. The criticism is the recent focus of the DC Association of Chartered Public School’s End The List campaign and the Open the Doors of Opportunity effort led by the Center for Education Reform.

The DME’s publication is highly misleading. It claims that there are only three schools, for a total of 385,000 square feet, that are currently empty and “undergoing DCPS programmatic review.” The document states that these buildings have not been deemed “excess” according to D.C. law. The former traditional schools are Langston, closed in the mid-1990s; Spingarn High School, shuttered in 2012; and the Winston Education Campus, also closed in 2012. If these schools cannot be classified as excess, then I do not understand what structures will ever land in this category.

The report lists seven schools that have been turned over to entities for other purposes. There are another 16 buildings classified as being occupied by District agencies. One of these is Ferebee-Hope that is being offered to charters through a request for proposal.

Strangely missing from the schools listed in the addendum to the government’s study are Hine and Randall, two of the five former DCPS sites that Ms. Bowser turned over to private developers.

We also do not see any data on the DCPS schools that are operating with significant under-enrollment that could be used for charter school co-locations.

There is only one overriding theme that one comes away with after reviewing this material. If Muriel Bowser wanted to, she could provide a permanent facility for every charter school that needed one. Instead, after 20 years, charters are still struggling to identify adequate space in which to operate. The search is a major distraction from the mission of educating children, and is a significant contributor to the continuing presence of an academic achievement gap in our city that is currently at about 65 points. It is the largest one in the nation.

It appears crystal clear now that there is only going to be one way to ensure that empty DCPS structures are turned over to charters. This will be through the courts. Who will have the guts to take up this challenge?

Lack of transparency by charter leaders will lead to D.C. Council transparency bill passage

I have spent considerable time listening to the testimony of charter school supporters before the D.C. Council last week regarding the bill proposed by Charles Allen that would require these schools of choice to adhere to the open meetings law and force them to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. I’m frankly not impressed. It appears that the unspoken strategy that our side employed was to advance the argument that this legislation would do nothing to improve the quality of the education that children are receiving. It did not work. In fact, I feel that we simply allowed those in favor of these requirements to offer the consistent line of reasoning that since charter schools are receiving taxpayer money they must be responsive to the public’s desire for as much information about their operations as is available, just as is the case with any government entity. However, charter schools are not part of the government.

We should have taken a different approach. What we did not explain, and there was plenty of evidence to make this point, is that charter schools in the nation’s capital are under attack. We could have shown through the power of the printed word that there are people out there, specifically certain reporters, that appear to be on a mission to see these schools vanish from the face of the earth. We could have quoted articles that have gone after the salaries of school administrators, have criticized as evil an organization whose mission is to turnaround low performing institutions, and that have bemoaned schools for contributing financially to organizations established to defend their integrity. We could have illustrated the efforts of teachers’ unions to undermine our existence.

DC Public Charter Board executive director Scott Pearson came closest to offering the line of reasoning that I am proposing. He stated:

“We recently received a request made asking for all emails DC PCSB staff have sent with a lengthy list of recipients going back to 2015. A preliminary search returned an estimated 3.2 million pages of responsive documents. So far, we’ve been able to narrow the request to 1.9 million pages, but the requestor has been largely unwilling to work with us on reducing it any further. We estimate this will take three employees working full time over a year to review all of these documents. Imagine a school dealing with this, and the diversion of resources from student facing work.

Another recent example is a multi-part request that we completed. This request ultimately took nearly 500 hours of staff time to complete. That amounts to one staff member spending 12 and a half work weeks focusing on this issue alone. I would also note that, under current law, there is a very high threshold for a request to be considered overly broad or onerous.”

We should have shouted that if you pass Mr. Allen’s legislation, that on the face of it appears well intended, the open meeting law and FOIA will become a weapon in the arsenal to shutter the charter movement. Make no mistake about it. Schools will be targeted and there will be nothing they will be able to do in the face of these new requirements.

A shinning light came in the form of the remarks by Shannon Hodge, the co-founder and executive director of Kingsman Academy PCS. I reprint them below:

“Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso, and members of the Council. I am Shannon Hodge, co-founder and executive director of Kingsman Academy, a public charter middle and high school in Ward 6. This morning, I would like to share a few thoughts about the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. I have testified before you on several occasions regarding how charter schools in general are transparent and how Kingsman Academy specifically takes additional steps to open our operations and decision-making to important stakeholders. For example, our board meetings are open to the public and we announce them on our website. We have a Faculty and Staff Advisory Council that meets regularly to share their concerns and suggestions and provide feedback and perspective on initiatives under consideration. We utilize student and parent focus groups to make sure that we are responsive to stakeholders’ questions and concerns. And with the Transparency Hub of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), we can be assured that the public has access to relevant financial, performance, policy, and procurement information in a clear, straightforward manner.

Despite this level of access, I have seen very little family or public interest in the routine governance matters of my school. Although every one of our board meetings since May 2015 has been open and publicly posted, we have had members of the public or school staff appear only twice: once to present a proposal to the board and once to observe a board meeting as part of our accreditation process. The types of sensational headlines that may appear once per school year in the city do not reflect what typically happens at our board meetings. And, unfortunately, I do not know that anything in the legislation before you will prevent those headlines. Adding constraints on those meetings and requiring certain people to be on those boards only adds to the bureaucracy.

I have four specific asks as you continue to consider this legislation. First, I ask that you not substitute the DC PCSB as a de facto central office for charter schools. The DC PCSB is not equivalent to District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). It does not operate any schools. Its primary responsibility is to determine whether charter schools stay open based on the goals that we have adopted and agreed upon in our charters. Asking the DC PCSB to provide technical support and assistance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) clouds its role and our work. As it currently stands, charter schools pay the DC PCSB millions of dollars per year to support its work. Kingsman Academy alone pays more than the equivalent of what we would pay a full-time teacher’s salary and benefits to the DC PCSB on an annual basis. Your requiring the DC PCSB to provide assistance with this legislation will inevitably lead to the cost of that support being passed along to charter schools. Please do not punish schools by adding costs that our funding cannot support. Instead, set up a special purpose revenue non-lapsing fund for compliance with this legislation.

Second, I ask that you talk to school leaders, especially of small, single-site charter schools like Kingsman Academy, to hear directly how this proposed legislation will affect us and to use that information to refine the bill. With past legislation, such as the school discipline bills led by Councilmember Grosso, this Council very deliberately engaged school leaders over a period of time to strengthen the proposals.

Third, I ask you to consider the provision of this legislation that would define the boards of public charter schools as public bodies for FOIA purposes. Will the city cover our legal bills related to FOIA compliance, as it does for other public agencies? If you are willing to consider us as public bodies for this purpose, are you also willing to provide the 11 percent match to our teachers’ retirement contributions as you do for DCPS? Are you willing to pay for modernizing the buildings that we own?

Fourth, I ask you to consider whether the problems you are trying to address with this legislation are actually served by it. As I think about the DC students who are dying due to gun violence, the disparities in student performance for students with disabilities and the students designated as “at-risk”, this legislation seems to call your attention away from the most significant problems facing schools in this city.

Thank you for your time and your attention to this matter. “